National laughing competition to be held in Atlanta in May

Laughter is contagious, and it will almost certainly spread across Atlanta on May 17.

That's when the world's best laughers will converge and compete for the top spot in the American Laughing Championships.

This is the first year that Atlanta is hosting a contest for what the program’s founder, Albert Nerenberg, describes in a press release as a competitive “new sport.” Contenders are judged based on how contagious their laughter is with the audience through a series of challenges.

The laughing championships event web page says, “People with a talent for contagious laughing demonstrate their ability to crack up an audience” and participate in competitions for titles beyond just “best laugher,” including the best maniacal laugh, best belly laugh and sexiest laugh in America.

Laughing championships were first held in Montreal in 2011 and have since spread to other countries such as the United States, France, Japan and Austria, among others. In the U.S. specifically, San Diego held the first ever American Laughing Championships last year.

Now, it’s Atlanta’s turn.

“We’re delighted to be in Atlanta … We’re better than an Olympic City,” Nerenberg said in the press release.

Be warned, though: reigning champion Julie Ostrow, who beat out 15 laughers last year in San Diego for the title of “Best Laugher in America 2013,” plans to participate, the press release says. (Ostrow apparently laughed for an hour straight in the 2013 competition.)

“Not only do I want to take a crack at defending my title, but the laughing championships are so much fun,” Ostrow told the AJC. “Even if I don’t win, they’re a blast.”

Ostrow – a humor, laughter and improv coach based in Illinois – said she laughed so hard last year that it seemed as if the audience had disappeared.

“I reached euphoria, as if the whole audience went away,” she said.

Ostrow will be challenged by Doug Collins, known for having “the most contagious laugh in the world.”

Collins – the self-proclaimed “Laughman,” according to his site – has been featured on “Good Morning America” and radio stations around the world, and was featured in a documentary titled “Laughology,” in which British scientists try determining what exactly makes his laugh so contagious.

Also in the lineup is a man “with a laugh so crazy he’s been dubbed the Montreal Maniac,” according to the press release.

“This is easily the most significant competitive laughing line up in human history,” Nerenberg said. “Competitive laughing hasn’t been around that long, but we’ve never had such uncontrollable laughing talent under one roof.”

The 2014 American Laughing Championships will take place at 8 p.m. on May 17 in the Hotel Capital Park Ballroom. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased online.

Additionally, the event coincides with "Southern Fried Laughter," a worldwide laughter conference being held in Atlanta from May 16 to 18 and also featuring Nerenberg.